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So, people are bombing Iraq again. You might remember this from several previous incidents. We're doing the whole thing again.

As usual, it's not going to work. Or rather it's better to say that all it's going to do is provide some minor assistance to the folks on the ground. For an example, I turn to the BBC.

To summarize, two GR4 Tornado aircraft (each costing about $15 million by past accounts) flew about 920 km one way (you don't want to know what the gas bill is for that), piloted by pilots who need hundreds of hours of training in expensive simulators, cruised around a target zone for a time, hit a "heavy weapons" station (capabilities unknown), and then spotted an enemy technical (also known as a pickup truck with a gun on the back). They fired at least one Brimstone missile (estimated cost $240,000), and hit and destroyed a truck (probably a couple of thousand dollars even in the US) mounting what was probably something similar to a ZPU (a dual purpose anti-aircraft gun first manufactured by the Soviet Union back in 1949, and probably about the same cost as the truck).

The point is not that this didn't do anything. It probably killed someone if they didn't bail out. If there were Kurdish or Iraqi troops around, it reduced the immediate threat to them. If it was in the middle of a fierce battle, it opened a hole in a position and allowed the shape of combat to change rapidly. Soldiers pinned down could advance, perhaps catching ISIL off-guard. At the least they weren't being shot at quite as much, and that's always a good thing.

But if the truck was just sitting near a command post, it does very little. ISIL will get a new truck and a new gun (both readily available on the black market), and replace the driver. The coalition will run out of missiles due to budgetary concerns and aircraft from the wear and tear long before ISIL runs out of second-hand Toyota trucks.

So if the RAF drops a state-of-the-art missile on a truck in the middle of Iraq and no friendly troops are around to take advantage of the situation, does anybody care? Probably not.
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There are a lot of myths flying around about Syria, from both sides, which annoys me. Everyone seems to believe things that I find false. I’m not an expert, but even I get annoyed by some of the myths I’ve seen floating around. Here are some I find especially false:

Myths and Confusions )
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So, just something I’ve noticed over the years. When someone tells you that there’s no time to consider something, that we have to make a decision right now, chances are that what they’re asking you to make is a bad decision. Maybe it’s buying something you don’t need, or succumbing to some kind of peer pressure, but when someone wants you to make up your mind about something without taking time to consider it, chances are that they’re afraid that if you take your time to consider it you’ll find good reason to do what they don’t want. If they need to shout at you to get you to make up your mind, chances are what they want is a bad idea.

This goes double when they’re asking you to bomb someone else’s country.

Now, sometimes you have to make up your mind in a hurry. Sometimes there’s a rock falling towards your head, or you need to decide whether to brake or swerve, or fight or flight. But that implies a window that is going to snap shut on you, that if you don’t do something your ability to do something will be taken away.

In Syria there doesn’t seem to be a deadline looming. Yes, it will be much harder to do something about chemical weapon attacks after the Civil War is over, but the war has been raging for over two years. It’s not like if we don’t bomb someone by Sunday the war will be over. Media hype aside, there hasn’t been a decisive change in the flow of the war for over a year. You can wait for the UN inspectors before bombing. You can wait for more information before bombing. You can wait to be sure that you have to bomb before bombing. It’ll just increase the time the Syrians have to be nervous.

And it’s not like the Syrian opposition is going to roll over because of a chemical attack. Yes, the death of possibly more than a thousand civilians is a terrible affair - but the war has killed over a hundred thousand people already. A hundred thousand. This isn’t a tragedy, it’s one percent of a tragedy, a horrible punctuation in a background of continual killing. The opposition didn’t fold for any of that, they’re not likely to fold now. We’re not going to end the killing, we’re not going to end the war, we’re just going to punish people for one little part of it that is probably lost in the morass and in the end will barely even matter.

So there’s no real downside to waiting. Which leads to the question of why certain people are pushing this decision so hard and so fast. What are they afraid we’re going to realize if we wait? Are we going to come to our senses? No, this is fundamentally a bad decision, and we should be smart enough not to let the hucksters take us for a ride.
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It wasn't exactly a peaceful 2012, and 2013 doesn't look a whole lot better. Oh, that Afghanistan thing is still going on, but in other parts of the world there's a whole lot of other civil conflict that looks like it could spill over across borders and into the international playing field at any moment.

So here is a quick list of all the powder kegs currently burning today.

Who's shooting at who )
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In response to mounting tensions along the Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey is moving more military forces to the border with Syria, including deploying fighters from an air base near Batman, capital of Turkey's Batman province.


If it wasn't for the fact that nobody cares about Syria anymore, this would be the most amusing geographic challenge that the news media would face all year.

(Bonus points to the first conspiracy nut who claims that the whole Syria thing is just a publicity stunt for The Dark Knight Rises).
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So, Gaddafi is gone. One of the world's most flamboyant, strangest, and altogether craziest dictators is now not only out of office, he's finally departed this world for the next.

This is a time of celebration for the people of Libya, and for those who believed in the Arab Spring. It's a moment to reflect on how far the people of Libya have brought themselves in these past months.

But it's also a time to ask what their future is going to hold. Gaddafi is gone, but that doesn't mean that everything is going to start coming up roses. A lot of people are asking questions about what happens next, and are feeling very nervous by the answers they're getting. Here are the questions I think the Libyan people should be asking themselves now:

Three Questions )
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A lot has happened in Libya in the past few weeks, culminating with this weekend's push into Tripoli. A lot that seemed clear a month ago is no longer clear, and a lot that seemed impossible is no longer impossible.

If there's anything that should be clear from the Libya situation, it's that military affairs, social affairs, and economic affairs take time, where pundits take none. When the loyalists were on the verge of taking Benghazi, everyone was frightened that the end of the world would happen right there and then, that the war was lost for the rebels. This was part of what pushed the strong NATO intervention. When that intervention failed to win the war for the rebels in the first week, the words quagmire and "no end in sight" were tossed around. As the stalemate continued, that perspective gained strength, until the whole western intervention looked like just another bungled disaster. Now the interventionists are basking in their glory, and gloating to their more pessimistic colleagues.

Many people predicted the same thing - the war would be won for the rebels if they could figure out how to operate effectively and cohesively in the west against Gaddafi's greater firepower. They also predicted that, despite contrary appearances, international isolation was hurting Gaddafi's regime. Both those predictions appear true, as the rapid folding of regime forces has indicated. But it took time. Not that it took a long time - for a civil war to last only months is remarkably short, even in the age of motor transportation. All complicated affairs, and wars most of all, take time. For all we know, the rebels will suffer another reverse and be driven out of the city (although that looks unlikely).

That's probably the most important lesson we can learn about whatever happens in Tripoli today (the situation is still not clear), these things take time. Wars are not ended in days, effects are not instantaneous. If it takes half a year for a popular rebellion across an oppressed country to seize the capital of a hated and outdated leader, imagine how long it takes for a foreign country to occupy another and then try and change its entire political and social structure.

Oh, and the other thing to learn - people can take care of themselves if you give them the chance.
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Since this journal normally looks more like a news and politics blog then anything else, here are some updates from the last month for things I'm watching that could go boom just to prove that if I've been replaced by a doppelganger, he's at least consistent.

The World Keeps Going Faster )
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Despite NATO intervention (lead originally by an increasingly reluctant US, a militant France, and now some guy from Canada), the civil war for Libya continues to oscillate back and forth along the coastal regions of Libya. Every day the front line moves through a familiar collection of towns, like marks on a ruler, as the rebels alternatively advance in the wake of airstrikes, or retreat in the face of artillery.

But who cares about that? What's important is that I figured out how to use Google's staticmaps API, so I thought I'd use that to post some pictures of key battlefield in Libya. After all, what matters is that I get to show off pretty pictures.

Lots Of Images, None Disturbing )
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More Libya, because that's what I'm watching these days.

Looks like the war in Libya has finally started in earnest. No sooner had I sat down to pen about how things really did not seem to be starting (leading to some puzzled head-scratching on the behalf of international observers) and things kick off. Supporters of Gaddafi (whom I shall refer to as loyalists) have finally launched a massive attack on Ras Lunaf, apparently driving the rebels from the city (I refer to them as rebels because I find opposition members to be too unwieldy; we need a better word for that). This could signal the start of a major shift in the war in Libya, or it could be the last gasp of Gaddafi's loyalists in the face of popular revolt. One thing is pretty sure, in ten years or so we'll all be sitting around saying, “Oh yes, it should have been obvious that things would turn out this way”. Of course, it isn't. It never is.

What Next? )
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Well, predictably, the neo-cons realized that they finally had a chance to do something. After all, Egypt and Bahrain (and Saudi Arabia when it goes) are all US allies, so you can't sell them out for something as transient or useless as freedom or democracy or some other things like that which we don't really care about. But nobody likes Gaddafi. So that gives us a chance to call out the troops and get some primo photo ops.

(Not to say that the liberal interventionists and anti-genocide people haven't gotten their share).

Fortunately, a bunch of people have showed up to throw cold water on people. First it was CENTCOM's James Mattis throwing water on John McCain. Now it's escalated to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

In fact, out of the people I normally respect, I haven't seen much enthusiasm for the whole "let's go save Libya" crowd. This is in contravention to a lot of calls from inside Libya - Twitter and Facebook are filled with calls for the world to watch and for someone to do something about the fact that Gaddafi is firing on his own people. But even among those who really like democracy and really want to help Libya don't seem to have much enthusiasm for it.

Nobody Wants to Risk a No-Fly Zone )

Nobody wants to take responsibility for bombing Tripoli on their own. The Americans and the Europeans may be sending more and more ships, but for now all they'll do is stand off the coast. Unless Gadaffi forces their hand, the US will wait for the UN to approve, and with the Russians threatening to veto it's a good thing Libya is doing a good job of freeing itself without our intervention, because they'll be waiting for us for a long time.
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With Libya's government actually shooting at people, there have been some questions about whether the US should do something about it. Certainly a great many people on twitter and other social media sites are asking where the rest of the world is.

Libya still a pariah state; nobody really considers Libya their bestest friend. Nobody's going to bat for him. And Gaddafi is bombing the protesters from the air and bombarding them from sea; in any nation in the scope of Europe that would be unacceptable. It's an atrocity. It's something that people all over the world that they wish they could stop.

So, can the US do something about it? Short answer, yes:

Cut for Meandering )

So why hasn't the US done anything about it yet? Well, I don't know, but I have a few ideas:

Speculation )

Are these good reasons? I don't know. I'm wary of using US military power directly in another country's affairs, even for a good cause. But these are options we should keep on the table if things deteriorate further - you can bet others will be thinking about them too.


Feb. 11th, 2011 10:03 am
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Going, going, gone!

18 days of protests, and he's gone. Mubarak has apparently handed over authority of the office of the President to the armed forces.

Jubilation now; figuring out what that actually means later. Possibly expect the world's softest and most polite coup. Hopefully the crowd will be able to keep their momentum up.

It's On

Feb. 10th, 2011 01:43 pm
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Apparently Mubarak didn't get the memo about resigning. The army may not be happy. The crowd is downright incensed.

Either the army decided to throw in with the regime, and Mubarak is pushing the crowd to provoke the army and give him an excuse to crack down, or he's got something else to fall back upon. Or he's totally out of touch.

He might think that he can hold out. After all, protests can't go on forever. But the protests can also push him out directly, especially if the army gets tired of Mubarak. Maybe he's hoping that the crowd will get violent and push the military onto his side. Maybe he's just completely out of touch.

And why did the military and the state television appear to desert him? Is it possible that there is now a schism between the NDP leadership and Mubarak? Is Mubarak hanging on against attempts by his own side to oust him. Is this a massive NDP game to position themselves as the "good guys", acting to push out the man who made them what they are, and thus guaranteeing themselves a place in the future of Egypt? Is this Mubarak betting that foreign nations will back him if he starts cracking down, if he even has that power? Is he hoping to drive some of the protesters to violence and split them in two parts?

I don't know. I can't read his mind. But nobody's going to be sleeping in the tactical office tonight. Get ready for a storm tomorrow.


Feb. 10th, 2011 10:38 am
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Everyone is now leaking the news that Mubarak is expected to step down this evening. This is both good in general (the only person who seems to genuinely like Mubarak these days is the bold, charismatic, suave, smartest man in the world, the fashion trend-setting Kim Jong-Il of North Korea), but a bit troubling in particular.

The troubling aspect comes from who is making the leaks. The hints come from the heads of the Egyptian military, who seem to have been in conference over this matter. Also from Hossam Badrawi, the secretary-general of Mubarak's National Democratic Party. In the United States, the message has been leaked by Panetta, Director of the CIA (who has since said he was only quoting news reports). People who spend their time reading tea leaves are a bit nervous because the message that seems to be spread here is that the real power-brokers have gotten together and decided to do away with Mubarak. The message is then that there will be change in leadership, but continuity in the people actually running things behind the scene. In that case the protesters may find the new boss to be much the same as the old boss.

In the long run this is just pissing into the wind; they can't keep the people out forever. But in the short run it's making the cynics, who have been worried that the protests in Egypt have been rather carefully managed so as not to threaten the powers-that-be, look increasingly justified in their gloomy analysis of Egypt's future.

But still, if Mubarak goes, no matter who replaces him, it's a victory for the people, so I'll try not to rain on their parade.
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Mubarak isn't stupid, he can think as well as any news correspondent. One of the things people have commented about has been the difference between Tunisia and Iran's "Green Revolution". The main difference people could come up with was that the Iranian regime really did have a large base. Not a majority perhaps, but enough to put their own crowds on the street and to provide them with muscle.

Well, Mubarak's got his crowd on the street now. My guess is that it's not so much a "crowd", but a collection of police and security officers, the core force that Mubarak has used to suppress dissent. al-Jazeera has several cameras on the action, which is mostly limited at this point to the hurling of rocks and other impromptu projectiles, but appears to be escalating with the fall of night.

The pro-Mubarak side came prepared and armed for bear. They look like they brought with them at least three two-and-a-half ton 6x6 trucks, possibly from army stock, which they are using as a rolling defensive line, giving them a moving barricade to shield their lead ranks from rocks, and some additional horsepower to run down barricades. It looks like they've taken the 6th October Bridge, and are trying to push their way into Tahrir Square from the north, going down the Meret Basha. It's a major approach, and the western side of the road is anchored on the Egyptian Museum, currently occupied by the Egyptian Army, so neither side can go around the flank. They've also taken the intelligent step of seizing the rooftops along the eastern edge of the street, giving them a platform to rain projectiles down on the anti-government protesters who still hold the square.

Meanwhile, the army seems disinclined to get in the middle of this. To me it looks like they're waiting to see what happens. And it looks like the Molotov Cocktails are starting.

Cut For Amateur Musings Because I'm Sure Nobody Else Cares )
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Hosni Mubarak has made his speech in response to the Tuesday "Million Man March". He claims that he will not run in the next election, but he will not leave now, and he will not abandon his post.

The response of the crowds is everywhere. You can hear it in the background of every newscast, of every broadcast like a distant storm beating against the shore. It does not sound frightened, or satisfied, it sounds hungry.

Mubarak claimed that he wanted to "Die on the soil of Egypt". If he stays much longer, he may be given his chance.
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Two hours until showtime in Egypt, and I'm cursing the fact that I have to go to bed. Then again, by this time tomorrow Egypt might have a new future. That wouldn't be such a bad thing to wake up to.

Mubarak has one card he hasn't played yet, the support of the Air Force. Even if the Army stays neutral, the Air Force might not, but it's not clear whether he can play this card, what this card is worth, and if it's even his to play. It's also the one thing that might force the US to take an active hand in things. My gut feeling is that he's not going to play it, but that may just be wishful thinking.

Whatever happens next, it's become clear that the next day is probably crucial. If he can tough that out without budging then he might be able to haggle his way into a transition government. If not, he may just be toast. Good riddance.
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Whatever happens tomorrow in Egypt, however it comes about, I hope people all over the world remember that what happened there was Egyptian. It is not about the United States, it is not about whether we support Mubarak or not, it is not about the Europeans, it is not about the Arab governments, about Israel, about Islam, about al-Qaeda or the War on Terror, or the War on Drugs, or the New York Times Review of Books, or who is voting for whom in the Iowa State Farm Pageant. It's not about what happened to the Iranians, to the Americans, to the Indians, or to the Parisians. It's not about what happened in Iraq in 2003, what happened in Iran in 1979, or what happened to Europe in 1848.

It's about what's happening in Egypt, to Egyptians, in 2011.

The US contributed in many ways to what happened there. The EU contributed, the Arab world contributed, the entire world contributed. Everyone, everywhere is somehow connected to what is happening there. But it is simply a contribution, a root, not the trunk, not the main. What is happening in Egypt has always been an Egyptian story; they have paid in blood and sweat and tears to unroll the canvas and write the letters on it. It is their story, and no matter how the climax is written, no matter how the story ends, theirs it remains. We can at least give them that.
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Everyone is now confirming that the government of Tunisia has fallen, and that the President has attempted to flee the country (whether successfully or unsuccessfully is not yet reasonably confirmed; the French will know soon). Nobody seems to know who's going to be in charge once the dust settles, but bets seemed to be split between a democratic revolution imposing an electable government, or a military coup.

If the protesters can hold on for a few days, then the first major political game change of 2011 may be "up". Hopefully they can keep it moving. The world can use some good news.


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